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Chapter: Anatomy and Physiology for Health Professionals: Respiratory System

The respiratory system includes tubes that remove particles from incoming air.


The respiratory system includes tubes that remove particles from incoming air. These tubes also trans-port air to and from the lungs and air sacs, where gas exchanges occur. Respiration is the entire process­ of gas exchange between body cells and the atmosphere. The organs of the respiratory system can be divided into the upper and lower respiratory tracts. The upper respiratory tract includes the nose, nasal cavity, para-nasal sinuses, and pharynx. The lower respiratory tract includes the larynx, ­trachea, and lungs, which contain the bronchi, bronchioles, and alveoli. The pharynx connects the nasal cavity and mouth to the larynx superiorly and the esophagus inferiorly. Sound production involves the vocal folds and their tension, diameter, and length along with various modifications from the tongue, lips, and teeth. Conducting­ zone structures include all respiratory passageways except for those making up the respiratory zone, which is where actual gas exchange occurs in the alveoli. Bronchi and bronchioles are tubes that continue to subdi-vide, becoming smaller and smaller as they proceed more deeply into the lungs.

The lungs are not symmetric, with the right lung having three lobes and the left lung having only two to accommodate the heart. The four distinct respiratory volumes involved in respiration are TV, IRV, ERV, and residual volume. Also, four respiratory capacities are created by the combination of two or more of the respiratory volumes: TLC, VC, inspiratory­ capacity, and FRC. Pulmonary function was originally tested using a device called a spirometer, but today this has been replaced by an electronic measuring device into which the patient blows air. The most important mus-cle of respiration is the ­diaphragm.

The thoracic activity changes size of its capac-ity or volume as inspiration and expiration occur. ­Normal breathing is involuntary and rhythmic. Blood transports gases between the lungs and body cells. Nearly all oxygen transported from the lungs to the body tissues occurs via its chemical combination­ with Hb. CO2 bonds with the amino groups of the “globin” or protein portion of Hb. The respiratory areas of the brain are the brain stem and portions of the medulla oblongata and pons. With aging, changes to the lungs, ribs, and costal cartilages combine to impair respiratory volume. Smoking­ is the most significant risk fac-tor to respiratory ­impairment over our lifetimes.

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